In the beginning of disc sports, there was no lag time between Canada and the United States. Disc sports were invented with competitive formats developing in both countries at the same time. The following article covers the history of early Frisbee play and flying disc sports sourced from early player accounts and documents. In the world’s history of the first disc sports, Canada and the United States share an events timeline on the same page.
Tin-Lids Frisbee and Flying Disc.
“People view it as a novelty often, but if you take away the Frisbee and replace it with a ball, it’s really difficult.” – Brandon Leshchinskiy.
In the 1950s and 1960s, the Frisbee, designed from the tin pie pan and eventually named after a bakery, hit the market as a new fun plastic flying toy in cities and towns across North America. Many innovations in Frisbee play and disc sports were being invented and developed in both the United States and Canada in the early years of what was then known as just “playing Frisbee.” A few pioneers developed the playing skills and then began presenting the events and competitive formats for early flying disc competitions. This was the beginning of today’s modern disc sports.
Canada’s Frisbee and Disc Sports History.
“Disc sports are Canadian sports. No country can claim an earlier disc sports identity.”
According to every source, including The Complete Book of Frisbee, the world’s first flying disc sport was disc golf, played in Bladworth, Saskatchewan, Canada (1926). It was the first organized game, uniformly played with a flying disc-like object and is the earliest record of pre-modern flying disc sports. In 1926, Ronald Gibson and a group of his Bladworth Elementary School buddies played a game of throwing tin lids into 4 foot wide circles drawn into sandy patches on their school grounds. They called the game Tin Lid Golf and played on a fairly regular basis. However, after they grew older and went their separate ways, the game ended. We don’t have the historical connecting dots from 1926 Tin Lid Golf to the beginning of modern disc golf or disc sports, but it doesn’t mean they weren’t there. For all we know, someone from Bladworth Tin lid Golf may have moved to the East Coast of the United States, for whatever reason and started the pie tin tossing at Yale and other universities, we just don’t know. Frisbee and modern disc sports competitions began in the early 1970s in Canada and the United States. Many innovations in competitions and tournament formats were being discovered and established in both countries at the same time. Because of Canada’s early introduction and interest in disc sports, Canadian disc athletes and teams, throughout disc sports history, have been recognized as the best in the world in various individual and team disc sports.
Modern Disc Sports, Canada 1970.
When reference is made to Frisbee and disc sports, words like hippie, alternative and counterculture come up, but few have explained this legend and how it applied to the beginning and evolution of all the disc sports. It wasn’t as much about the counterculture creating alternative sports as it was about alternative athletes creating new sports with a flying disc.
Since the 1970s, many people across Canada and the U.S. have made contributions to Frisbee and disc sports. Along with Tin Lid Golf in Saskatchewan, another significant recorded history for the beginning of modern disc sports began in Canada. From age 13, Jim Kenner and Ken Westerfield grew up as friends near Detroit Michigan. With no Frisbee mentors and playing years before the first disc sports, Ken and Jim developed a fast throwing and trick catching routine they called freestyle. In 1970, Jim and Ken moved from Michigan to Canada.
Becoming residents of Toronto, they would use Queen’s Park in the cities downtown area as their playing headquarters for developing their Frisbee play. Activities included object disc golf and freestyle. Westerfield and Kenner began developing Frisbee shows, competitive events and programs at recreation centers and schools across Canada and the United States. In 1971, during a time of hippies, yippies and counterculture, Jim and Ken did as many young people would do, spend the summer hitchhiking across Canada. Spending weeks on the road with little to sometimes no money, sleeping bags and a Frisbee, they gained some fame, performing improv Frisbee street shows in the cities and towns along the way. Beginning in 1972, after submitting a proposal to Irwin Toy (Frisbee manufacturer in Canada), they were hired by Irwin, while Frisbee was still considered a toy, to tour and perform as Frisbee Professionals across Canada. Ken Westerfield and Jim Kenner also teamed up with Humber College professor, Andrew Davidson and Jeff Otis, event coordinator for the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE), to produce the Canadian Open Frisbee Championships at the Canadian National Exhibition. This event began in 1972 with Guts and Distance and in 1974 they added Freestyle and Accuracy. In 1975, Ken and Jim moved the Canadian Open Frisbee Championships from the CNE to the Toronto Islands, where disc golf, ultimate and the individual field events were added to the original events. Westerfield and Kenner, from 1971, spent several years touring Canada as Frisbee pros for Irwin Toy. Each summer their tour would end in Vancouver, where they would spend the rest of their summer freestyling on Vancouver’s beaches, including Kitsilano and doing nightly Frisbee shows on the streets of historic Gastown. In 1974, they added another tournament to their Canadian Frisbee promotions, the Vancouver Open Frisbee Championships on Kitsilano Beach. In 1977, they brought all the world’s best Frisbee players to an international multiple event NAS competition in Stanley Park. Ken and Jim ran Frisbee activities across Canada, including major tournaments in Toronto and Vancouver. These tournaments were at the beginning of disc sports and two of the earliest competitions on the U.S. and Canadian tournament trail for Frisbee’s first touring competitive disc sports athletes.
An historical events timeline for Ken Westerfield and Jim Kenner.
Earliest Disc Sports Annual Tournaments in Canada and the U.S.
Guts, freestyle, disc golf, ultimate, double disc court (DDC) and several other Frisbee individual events like accuracy, distance, MTA, TRC, and Discathon were disc sports first events. The earliest competitions and tournament directors presenting the Frisbee in disc sports were the Healy family and the International Frisbee Tournament, IFT, in Michigan. Ken Westerfield and Jim Kenner’s Canadian Open Frisbee Championships (1972) in Toronto and the Vancouver Open Frisbee Championships (1974), Vancouver, BC. Dan Roddick and Flash Kingsley’s Octad (1974), New Brunswick, NJ. Jim Palmeri’s American Flying Disc Open, AFDO (1974), Rochester, NY. University of Michigan Indoor Frisbee Festival and Ed Headrick’s World Frisbee Championships (WFC) (1974) Rose Bowl, Pasadena, CA. These were the earliest disc sports multi-event competitions on the tournament trail for the first disc athletes and the beginning of presenting all of the disc sports. Not only did these early multi-event tournaments present all the first disc sports to the world, the tournament directors for these tournaments were also the pioneer founders of these first disc sports.
Frisbee and Disc Sports Publications.
In the early to mid-1970s, several player Frisbee publications became available, like Dan Roddick and Gary Seubert’s Flying Disc World (1974), for the purpose of communicating everything that is Frisbee and disc sports. Ken Westerfield and Jim Kenner were Canadian Editors. Beginning in 1976, Wham-O’s Frisbee World Magazine with Dan “Stork” Roddick as the editor. In the 1980s, Chris Lowcock published DisKraze Magazine in Canada. These early publications provided tournament dates, finishes, stories and information needed for the early growth of Frisbee and flying disc sports.
First Disc Golf and Competitions, Toronto and Vancouver 1970-1976.
“Winning a competition is mostly luck. The more you practice, the luckier you get.”
Beginning in 1970, Ken Westerfield and Jim Kenner, years before the idea of disc golf courses and having played target disc golf during their early Frisbee years in Michigan, played Frisbee disc golf daily on an 18 object hole course they designed in Queen’s Park, Toronto. This course was one of three courses that are considered to be the world’s first object disc golf courses that led to modern disc golf in Canada and the US. The other two courses were Rochester, NY (Jim Palmeri) and Berkeley, CA ( Berkeley Frisbee Group).
Beginning in 1973, Gail McColl (Disc Golf Hall of Fame and Discraft co-founder) and other friends of Ken and Jim’s, became regular disc golf players at the park.
Westerfield and Kenner added disc golf to their other tournament events at the Canadian Open Frisbee Championships on Toronto Islands and their Vancouver Open Frisbee Championships (NAS sanctioned event) in Stanley Park. Vancouver, BC. Kenner and Westerfield ran the Vancouver Open Frisbee Championships from 1974 to 1977. Jim Brown of Vancouver took over tournament responsibilities beginning in 1978.
These were the first disc golf tournaments in Canada, beginning as object courses, then later on Toronto Islands, the Canadian Open used permanently placed disc pole holes.
In 1979, Westerfield retired from the Wham-O NAS national disc golf tour. After his retirement, Ken began producing Irwin sponsored PDGA disc golf tournaments on the Toronto Island disc pole hole course. In 1987, Ken Westerfield as tournament director with sponsors Orange Crush, Roots, Irwin and Bob Blakely, Canadian Frisbee Association, produced the 1987 PDGA World Disc Golf Championships on Toronto Islands. This was the first and only time this world championship has been held outside of the United States.
Ultimate Frisbee in Canada 1975.
Ultimate made its first international appearance at the 1975 Canadian Open Frisbee Championships in Toronto. This was the beginning of introducing ultimate Frisbee to Canadians in the way of demonstrations added to the other tournament events.
Canadian Open tournament co-director Ken Westerfield would organize and play in these early ultimate demonstrations with some of the founders called Johnny Appleseeds. Teams made up of graduates from Columbia and other New Jersey High Schools and other disc athletes that were there to compete in the other events at the Canadian Open competition. In the mid-1970s, Westerfield also played touring team league ultimate in the Northern California Ultimate Frisbee League (NCUFL). In 1979, Ken retired from competing in disc sports and over-all NAS competitions in the United States but continued to organize and produce disc sports events in Canada. Because of his love of ultimate, he began organizing ultimate Frisbee in Toronto.
In 1979, Ken Westerfield with the help of Irwin Toy’s Bob Blakely (CFA), Chris Lowcock and the first four teams, started the Toronto Ultimate Club. Westerfield began weekly ultimate pickup games on Kew Beach with beach freestylers Patrick Chartrand, Stuart Godfrey, Gary Auerbach and Jim Lim. Ken, using his tournament registration contact list, sent team league invitations to form teams representing Wards Island, West Toronto, North Toronto and his own team the Beaches to join the Toronto Ultimate League. These were the first four teams with each team taking turns hosting Wednesdays weekly league game nights at their home locations. The league starting night was at Kew Beach. Westerfield, using Bob Blakely’s office copy machine and mailing facility at Irwin Toy, would produce a weekly newsletter highlighting the games and scores for each team and their league standings through the playing season. The Toronto Ultimate League developed and was renamed the Toronto Ultimate Club (TUC), that now has 3300 active members and over 250 teams playing the year-round. This was the first ultimate league in Canada and now one of the world’s oldest and longest running. In 1988, Westerfield retired from playing ultimate and organizing disc events, Chris took over all the responsibilities and successfully ran the league as TUC President until 1991. Ken Westerfield and Chris Lowcock were inducted into the inaugural class of both the 2010 Toronto Ultimate Club Hall of Fame and the national Ultimate Canada Hall of Fame.
Freestyle Competitions, Toronto and Vancouver 1974.
“Argue your limitations and you shall have them.” – Jonathan Livingston Seagull.
Freestyle is an event where teams of two or three players perform a routine that comprises a series of creative throwing and catching techniques set to music. The routine is judged based on difficulty, execution and presentation. The team with the best total score is declared the winner.
Playing Frisbee began as a throw and catch a flying disc event. Developing various ways of throwing and catching was eventually called freestyle. Freestyle in the beginning, before the invention of the nail-delay, catching possibilities would depend on the throw you were given, it was always spontaneous and unpredictable. Play of this freestyle was performed with two players standing 30-40 yards apart, the throws were fast and varied and the catches were right off the throw, except for the occasional kick or slap-up and rarely a pause between the catch and the return throw. At advanced levels, once you have mastered the basics, the throws and catches become a smooth flow.
For years, Ken Westerfield and Jim Kenner had been playing a fast-flowing trick throw and catch freestyle and already touring as Frisbee Professionals. In 1973, Westerfield and Kenner, wanting to see if there were other Frisbee freestylers, added their idea of a Frisbee Freestyle competition to the 2nd Canadian Open Frisbee Championships in Toronto, but because of lack of competitors, the freestyle event was canceled. Unknown to Westerfield and Kenner there was the beginning of a growing Frisbee freestyle interest in the United States centered in Berkeley, New York, Ann Arbor, New Jersey and Chicago. In 1974, at the 3rd annual Canadian Open Frisbee Championships, Westerfield and Kenner introduced the first freestyle competitive event called “Freeform,” which was attended by the best players from each of the cities mentioned. Ken and Jim won the first freestyle event. Freestyle was new in the US, Jim and Ken already playing freestyle for years and touring as professionals came to the competition with a big advantage.
The Decade Awards 1970-75 Top Freestyle Routine: Ken Westerfield/Jim Kenner Canadian Open 1974:
“Considered the greatest speed-flow game of all time. Ken and Jim put on a clinic to cap off a blistering hot final by all of the teams. They featured a rhythmic and dynamic style with concise catch and throw combinations. These two gentlemen are credited with creating formal disc freestyle competition. The 1973 Canadian Open did not have freestyle as an event, the end result made history.”
Later that same year, in 1974, Kenner and Westerfield organized the Vancouver Open Frisbee Championships (1974-1977) at Kitsilano Beach. Along with other Frisbee events, they included their second big freestyle competition where Bill King, Jim Brown and John Anthony made their first competitive appearance. The Canadian Open Frisbee Championships and the Vancouver Open Frisbee Championships (1974), was the beginning of freestyle. In 1975, the tournaments in the U.S. began, including Ken and Jim’s freestyle competition as one of their events. For the rest of that decade and into the 1980s, freestyle became the most popular event at multi-disc event tournaments worldwide.
Ken Westerfield and Jim Kenner were both inducted into the inaugural Pioneer Class of the Freestyle Players Association Freestyle Disc Hall of Fame.
Frisbee Becomes a Sport.
After touring for Irwin Toy for a few years, Westerfield and Kenner approached Molson Breweries in 1974 with the idea of performing Frisbee shows at basketball halftimes in Canadian universities as the Molson Frisbee Team. Always looking for unique ways to get into the university market, they accepted their proposal and were more than impressed with the results. The next year, Molson’s used their show exclusively to introduce a new brand of beer called Molson Diamond. In 1975, with Molson’s sponsorship, Westerfield and Kenner moved the Canadian Open Frisbee Championships, from the Canadian National Exhibition to the Toronto Islands. Molson’s would continue to sponsor their Frisbee shows and events for several years. Along with promoting Molson products, this would help Westerfield and Kenner to promote their new disc sports everywhere
In 1975, Ed Headrick asked Dan Roddick to head up the IFA at Wham-O. Ed also asked Ken Westerfield to head the Canadian Frisbee Association for Canada, Ken turned down the job and felt that his efforts would be better served outside an office. Irwin Toy, located in Toronto, did eventually establish the Canadian Frisbee Association. In the years that followed, the Canadian Frisbee Association would have several directors. In the 1980s, Bob Blakely took charge of Irwin’s Frisbee promotions and became director of the CFA. Bob Blakely was Canadian Frisbee Association’s first player/director and already involved in disc sports. Bob successfully organized show tours, appropriated funds and support for tournaments and teams, he also promoted and coordinated the Jr Frisbee Program across Canada. Blakely and Westerfield were good friends and became a perfect team for further promoting Frisbee and disc sports across Canada in the 1980s.
In the late 1970s, organized disc sports were becoming popular across Canada and the United States. Jim Kenner and Gail McColl moved from Toronto to London, Ontario and founded their disc manufacturing company called Discraft.
Ken Westerfield and Mary Kathron, dividing their time between Toronto and Santa Cruz, California, started a Frisbee show called Good Times Professional Frisbee Show, performing in Canada and the United States at universities and sporting events. Mary Kathron began playing in the early 1970s, around the same time as Gail McColl. These two Women are the first Women of freestyle. Ken and Mary also performed in several sponsored Frisbee touring shows coordinated by Bob Blakely as the CFA Director at Irwin Toy with Orange Crush, Air Canada, Lee Jeans and Labatt Brewery. Orange Crush even provided logo painted vans and motor homes with several touring Frisbee teams to do shows at fairs, sporting events, shopping malls and schools across Canada. Bob Blakely, Ken Westerfield, Mary Kathron, Ron Leithwood, Mike Sullivan, Brian McElwain, Kevin Sparkman, Stuart Godfrey, Pat Chartrand, Peter Turcaj, Gary Auerbach, Jim Brown, Bill King and John Anthony were the touring freestyle performers in the series and became the foundation upon which disc sports popularity continued to grow in Canada.
On the West Coast, Scott Lewis started the first organized disc sports in BC, inventing his own game called Frisbee Football and organizing several dozen people to play it regularly from 1974-1976 at Willows Beach in Victoria. In 1985, Jim Brown of Vancouver founded the Westwind Disc Society, which morphed first into the Vancouver Disc Sports Society and later the BC Disc Sports Society. This was the first provincially recognized disc sports organization. See more on disc sports in Vancouver…
Jean Luc Forest and Mike Jones were the co-founders of Manitoba Organization of Disc Sports. MODS became the first Canadian Ultimate Organization to incorporate in Feb of 1988. MODS was also the first to achieve Provincials Sports Organization status. See more on disc sports in Manitoba…
Touring Frisbee shows, the 1970s.
Freestyle, being the first Frisbee play, was new and exciting. A few of the top players of the 1970s could create Frisbee shows that would travel throughout the World, performing at fairs, universities, shopping malls and professional sporting events. In 1971, the first Frisbee shows were with Ken Westerfeld and Jim Kenner performing street shows in cities across Canada. In 1972, they signed with Irwin Toy, the Wham-O Frisbee licensee in Canada to tour and promote the Frisbee. Also that same year, Mike and Bill Schneider, who were Northern California players toured for Wham-O Frisbee affiliates in Europe. This was the very beginning of showing the possibilities of playing with a flying disc. Frisbee shows were giving the public a glimpse of what would soon become known as disc sports. Famous touring Frisbee shows included Good Times Professional Frisbee Show, The Spinning Bees, Frisbee South, The Aces, The Flying Aces and The Jammers. Irwin Toy (CANADA) and Wham-O (USA) organized several national and international tours. There were also sponsored Frisbee shows for major companies like Coca-Cola, Orange Crush, Copper Tone, Molson, Labatt, Budweiser and Lee Jeans. These shows would reach millions of people in every city and small town across North American and eventually the World. The early Frisbee freestyle shows deserve a lot of credit through their performances and publicity with bringing about the awareness of this new age of flying disc sports.
Frisbee and Disc Sports Timeline for Canada.
1926–World’s first flying disc sport is disc golf invented in Canada. The first game was held in Bladworth, Saskatchewan, using tin lids.
1970–Queen’s Park, Toronto, first designed object disc golf course and freestyle play. One of three known first object disc golf courses (the beginning of modern disc golf and freestyle)
1972–1976–Ken Westerfield and Jim Kenner meet with Ed Hurst of Irwin Toy with their idea of promoting the Frisbee. Ken and Jim become the first touring Frisbee Professionals.
1972–1985–The Canadian Open Frisbee Championships, Toronto, introducing modern disc sports. Sponsors over the years include Molson, Orange Crush, Labatt, Root’s and Irwin.
1974–1977–Molson Brewery sponsors Frisbee shows with Kenner and Westerfield as the Molson Frisbee Team and their tournaments.
1974–1977–The Vancouver Open Frisbee Championships. Western Canada’s first Frisbee competitions and the introduction of modern disc sports. World’s first freestyle competitions at the Canadian Open Frisbee Championships, Toronto and the Vancouver Open Frisbee Championships, Vancouver, BC.
1975–Irwin Toy creates the Canadian Frisbee Association to promote Frisbee sport and sales. In the 1980s, Bob Blakely becomes the first player to head the CFA.
1975–The Canadian Open Frisbee Championships introduces ultimate.
1975–1978–World Class signature Frisbee for Canada.
1976–1977–First disc golf tournaments in Canada – Canadian Open Frisbee Championships, Toronto Islands and The Vancouver Open Frisbee Championships. 1977–1985–Several Frisbee teams tour Canada with sponsors Orange Crush, Air Canada, Lee Jeans and Labatt Brewery.
1979–Discraft manufactures their first disc in London, Ontario.
1979–The Toronto Ultimate Club (TUC) begins.
1980–First official disc golf pole hole courses are designed and installed. Played as an object course since 1975–18 disc pole holes were installed on Toronto Wards Island, Toronto, ON and 9 disc pole holes on Pender Island, BC. In 1976, Winskill Park, Tsawwassen, BC, had a 9 hole disc golf course. The poles with baskets were homemade by locals. In the 1990s they were replaced with official Mach II disc pole holes.
1984–The beginning of two PDGA disc golf tournaments. The Disc Golf Challenge and the Toronto Island Open (1984-2012)
1985–Disc Involvement Society of Canada (DISCANADA) that included a publication.
1985–The Labatt’s World Guts Championships, Toronto, Ontario (Toronto Islands).
1985–Westwind Disc Society – the Vancouver Disc Sports Society
1986–Ottawa and Vancouver’s ultimate leagues begin.
1987–Winnipeg Ultimate League begins.
1987–The World Disc Golf Championships (PDGA), Toronto, Ontario (Toronto Islands)
1987–Canadian Ultimate Championships (CUC), Ottawa, Ontario.
1988–Manitoba Organization of Disc Sports,(MODS). First Provincial Sports Organization founded.
1991–WFDF World Ultimate Club Championships in Toronto.
1993 – Canadian Ultimate Players Association begins.
(For a complete timeline of disc sports in Canada and the United States)
History and awards: Decade Awards
Instruction: Ultimate United
A pictorial history of disc sports: Disc Sports History in Pictures.
Directory of Ultimate Frisbee Clubs across Canada.
Disc Golf Course Directory in Canada and the World.
The Flying Disc Museum, Frisbee’s, disc sports, posters, magazines, history, collectibles.
History of Ultimate Frisbee
Ultimate Frisbee History in Canada
Disc Golf History
History of Disc Golf in Canada
Freestyle Frisbee History
Guts Frisbee History
Home: The History of Frisbee and Disc Sports
Note: This information was referenced and time-lined from disc sport historical and biographical articles including U.S. and Canadian Disc Sports Hall of Fame inductions, Disc Sports Player Federations and other historical resources. This article was researched, written and compiled by Frisbee and disc sports historians. The history in this document may change as events and people are added. Linking or reproduction in whole or part with proper linked crediting is permitted (discsportshistory.com). For more information, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Top feature photo: Mark Lloyd, Toronto Rush, AUDL.
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